Social Distancing, Light Turnout Mark Georgia’s First Day Of Coronavirus Early Voting
On the first day of early voting for the June 9 primary, Georgia voters were met with masked poll workers, increased sanitation and socially-distanced lines as part of an array of coronavirus prevention efforts at the polls.
Turnout was reportedly light, but in polling places across the state, a steady stream of voters were spaced in 6-foot intervals as they waited.
In Macon, Kaleigh Lewis said it was important to cast her ballot in person, even if it meant waiting in line.
“People are waiting at Walmart and Home Depot, why not come wait to vote,” 26-year-old Lewis said. “It just feels right to come out and vote in person [rather] than sitting at home and doing it.”
As of Monday, more than 1.4 million Georgians had submitted requests to vote by mail as state and local officials continued urging voters to avoid the polls amidst a public health emergency.
State law requires three weeks of early voting and, for some Georgians, voting Monday was a rite of passage.
Despite the mask Silvia Roldan wore as she walked out of a Fulton County elementary school used as a voting site she could barely contain her excitement.
“I voted, I voted,” Roldan exclaimed, showing off the eponymous peach sticker to anyone she could.
The grandmother of three was the first person to cast a ballot at Garden Hills Elementary, one of five early voting polling places that opened Monday in Fulton. The county closed more than 15 locations because of the coronavirus.
The secretary of state's office says there were few problems with voting reported on the state's new $104 million touchscreen voting system. A voter in Berrien County tried to pull their paper ballot out of the printer before it was finished, jamming the printer. In Macon County, a voter removed their access card before printing their ballot.
In Fulton, Thomas Glanton strolled in to vote about an hour after the poll opened at Garden Hills.
At first, he said, he was unsure if he should come out to vote again because he voted in March.
Voters who cast their ballots early in the March 24 presidential primary before it was postponed will receive a ballot that has primary races for every contest except president.
All told, it took him no more than 10 minutes.
“It was pretty well protected,” Glanton said of the voting area. “I don’t know how this is going to work in November... When you get into a presidential election, I’m not certain how fast it is going to be.”
As of Monday, more than 360,000 absentee ballots had been completed and returned to local election offices, and the State Election Board passed an emergency rule Monday morning allowing counties to begin processing the piles of mail-in votes 8 days before the election.
But the state’s targeted effort to boost mail-in voting has not been flawless.
Ellen Williams said she was forced to make the decision to vote in person after the absentee ballot she applied for never arrived.
She was the fifth person in line, and said she did not want to share how long she waited to deter people from voting. It took 30 minutes from start to finish.
At the South DeKalb Mall, an early voting site is set up in a vacant retail space. Voters there were few and far between.
Robert E. Davis donned a Purple Heart Vietnam Veteran hat, a mask and a pair of blue latex gloves as he walked out of the mall early in the afternoon.
“The crowd is not here,” he said. “That’s the reason I’m out here early.”
Sharon Cotten said she normally votes early in-person, but this election has been different for a number of reasons.
“This virus, this mask, the distance... The phobia of actually what is going on in our world. It’s very different,” she said.
Cotten wore a mask and gloves too. She said the experience met her expectations.
“They are very clean. They said they would be,” Cotten said of the staff helping to run the poll. “I wore my mask, they had masks on. They are very open and the distance is what it is. It’s safe, so I’m here.”
Poll workers across the state will be equipped with personal protective equipment like hand sanitizer and gloves as they work the polls to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Only 3.4% of Georgia’s 10.6 million residents have been tested for the virus as of Monday, and health officials warn against gatherings of 10 or more people.
A GPB News/Georgia News Lab survey of local elections officials found at least 30 counties closed or moved early voting sites because of the coronavirus, and many planned to implement fewer voting machines to comply with recommendations to keep 6 feet of distance between voters at all time.
Williams, the Fulton County voter said that she was worried about her health while voting, but also the health of the volunteers making the election run smoothly.
“I think that the poll workers are doing a fabulous job, risking their lives,” she said. “I think the state has done a deplorable job.”